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How a smart mobility app leads to sustainable commuting behavior

What started out as a smartphone app that warns motorists of traffic jams, road constructions and different weather circumstances, expanded to a mobility app that stimulates sustainable commuting behavior through gamification. The opportunities to reduce carbon emissions through this method are therefore massive. The app, named ‘TimesUpp’, is developed by the Dutch company Innovactory, that recently obtained a certificate on the highest level of the CO2 Performance Ladder. The Foundation for Climate Friendly Procurement and Business (SKAO) spoke to the founding fathers of this smart mobility app and discovered the opportunities to cut back carbon emissions in the mobility sector by means of gamification.

“The app of Innovactory originated from the idea to let motorists drive more efficiently”, says Lucien Groenhuijzen, CEO of Innovactory. With knowledge and experience that he acquired from his former employer, TomTom, he started Innovactory in 2013. “People travel in fixed patterns. When they frequently travel by car, they know that there will be traffic jams at certain moments of the day, but they are always surprised at the wrong time. This is why we thought of the departure alarm to warn motorists of traffic jams, road construction or weather conditions, so they can depart sooner to arrive timely at their destination, whether it be the office or some other appointment.”

Behavioral change for sustainable mobility

After the launch of TimesUpp in 2014, Innovactory quickly saw a rise in the amount of downloads and users of the smartphone app. “We measured users’ activity on the app and analysed the data. In this research, we were supported by the Dutch ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW). Our analysis showed that users adjusted their commuting behavior. The warnings did not only help users to arrive timely at their destinations, but often times they also decided to skip traveling by car and work from home instead. This was unexpected, because we thought our app would initially help users arrive timely at their destination by departing sooner and taking more time to travel.”

The results of the analysis on users of TimesUpp and their commuting behavior have triggered the interest of the Dutch ministry IenW and local governments, that were searching for different methods to stimulate sustainable travel behavior. “If we can alter the travel behavior of 5 or 10 percent of the motorists, we could achieve great success in terms of sustainability. At the moment, there are only few instruments that can stimulate positive behavioral change when it comes to sustainable mobility”, says Groenhuijzen. “Furthermore, different governments in the Netherlands are developing programs that encourage car drivers to adopt a sustainable travel behavior. These governments requested us to contribute to the sustainable mobility programs with TimesUpp. And so, we developed a new version of the app to realise these programs while working alongside Dutch governments.”

Local governments of the Netherlands have now developed several programs to stimulate sustainable mobility. These programs are implemented in the cities of Groningen and Eindhoven, among other cities. “The programs are developed along with local governments. The initiators of the sustainable mobility programs are provinces in most cases, but also municipalities, for example the municipality of Nijmegen that soon will start its own sustainable mobility program”, says Stefan Bollars, program manager at Innovactory. The Dutch municipality of Nijmegen was the one to introduce Innovactory to the CO2 Performance Ladder. “The municipality submitted a tender for the development and implementation of their smart mobility program. In this tender, they made use of the CO2 Performance Ladder as an award criteria for its contractors. We therefore decided to obtain a certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder. Now, we have been awarded the project and obtained a level 5 certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder.”

Removing roadblocks to travel more sustainably

In order to contribute to the government programs of sustainable mobility in the Netherlands, Innovactory developed TimesUpp to not only send users warnings on road construction, traffic jams or weather conditions, but to also encourage users to travel by public transport or bicycle instead of by car. To make this possible, Innovactory thought of a reward system. Groenhuijzen: “A group of people that make use of our app, which is 25 percent of the total amount of users, is conscious about the environment. This makes them more willing to leave the car at home and travel by public transportation or bicycle. However, the remaining 75 percent of TimesUpp users is not willing to travel by public t

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